The troubled U.N. peacekeeping operation--often criticized for doing too much in Somalia and too little in Bosnia-Herzegovina--felt the sting of a new blow Friday when an official report accused its soldiers of encouraging prostitution in Mozambique and buying sex there from underage girls.
The report was released in Maputo, the Mozambican capital, by Behrooz Sadry, the deputy chief of the U.N. mission, who urged reporters to look on its findings not as a sex scandal but as "a defense of the children of Mozambique."
Sadry, who headed a team of investigators, refused to release the names and nationalities of offending peacekeepers but said they had been sent home.
News reports have singled out Italian soldiers, the second-largest contingent in Mozambique, as the main offenders and described the young prostitutes as girls 12 to 14 years old. But Aldo Ajello, an Italian who is chief of the U.N. mission in Mozambique, has said it is "untrue, unjust and unfair" to blame only the Italians.
There are more than 6,000 U.N. peacekeeping troops in the southeast African nation, assigned to monitor a cease-fire between government and rebel troops after 14 years of civil war.
The peacekeepers, in order of their numbers, come from Bangladesh, Italy, India, Zambia, Uruguay, Botswana, Portugal, Japan and Argentina.
Sadry said the large number of soldiers and their relative wealth in one of Africa's poorest countries had led to "a publicly perceptible increase in prostitution."
Accusations of sexual misconduct by the troops with child prostitutes had first come from foreign relief workers in Mozambique. In response to these complaints, Ajello ordered his deputy in December to conduct the investigation.
Despite the sex scandal, the Mozambique peacekeeping mission is regarded as one of the United Nations' most successful.
On Wednesday, the Security Council urged the Mozambicans to set a general election for no later than October. If that schedule is followed, the resolution said, the U.N. peacekeeping mission will depart at the end of November, when a new government is to take office.